Sunday, 5 February 2012

Jack Benny’s Jolly Good Show

It seems appropriate that, on July 4, there would be a newspaper column about an American conquering the English. No Revolutionary War story here, though it had been joked the man at the centre of all this had been around since then.

July 4, 1950 is when Broadway columnist Earl Wilson wrote about Jack Benny’s victory on the stage of the Palladium in London. Earl—and it must be nice to have this kind of job—was a first-hand viewer.

British Love Jack Benny
London — Jack Benny stands there on the stage and says, “In Scotland, they think I’m quite a spendthrift. . .”
And the English, some of them well-to-do, some of them in evening clothes, smoking their cigarets and cigars as they sit in the stalls at the Palladium Theatre, go mad with delight, for Jack Benny is as popular in England as American money.
I think he’s even more appreciated than he is at home.
For we take him for granted back home; here they only hear his broadcasts — without commercials, yet! — during the war, and saw him two years ago at the Palladium, so he’s a great, great luxury.
“I’m a collector of rare coins,” he says.
“Of course they weren’t rare when I collected them”.
And they roar again.
The Londoners go to either the “first house” at 6:15, or the “second house,” at 8:45, and they have a drink in the saloon in the back at intermission. And sitting in the audience as the Beautiful Wife and I did, hearing the laughter of that friendly audience, you can begin to feel something new about the greatness of the English language and its power to communicate.
(There, there, Wilson, don’t get serious. You’re a jerk from Ohio remember?)
For they’re hep here. They laugh just at the mention of Fred Allen, and cheer the name of Danny Kaye.
They know about Jolson. Jack — as a gag — said that Jolson got paid $5-000 to work at a N Y. benefit.
“Jolson needs $5,000 like Jane Russell need falsies,” Jack said “They’re both loaded.”
They adore Phil Harris’ singing and bragging, as when he pretends he’s the top man and says superiorly to Benny, “Glad to have you with me.”
And when Rochester says he has no objection to his salary “but I’m the only man who can cash my pay check on a tram,” well they’ve had it — as everybody says here.
How the critics raved! The Daily Express’ John Barber said:
“Oh Good, Mr. Benny. Oh, Very Good!”
And here’s a clue to Benny’s likely greatness on television in this line: “The famous deadpan’s face is never still. Radio audiences miss the best of Benny.”
I think so, too, but only discovered it here. Jack is one of the greatest muggers — yet it’s an underplayed mugging; he’s really a “facial expressionist,” with about the greatest timing to be found today.
At intermission, I went to investigate a great jam in an aisle, thinking it was Ava Gardner’s fans, but they were packed around Cesar Romero and Mary Benny for their autographs, Quel adoration for Romero.
Afterward we went into the bar off the royal box that Val Parnell, owner of the Palladium, fitted up for the King and Queen, then we were off to the “21 Room” for a party where the guests, including the Robert Sherwoods and Sam Goldwyns, cheered Benny when he came in.
Characteristically, Jack, after his triumph, talked about somebody else—about Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore phoning him from Hollywood and the Wiere Brothers from St. Louis.
And he told Bob Sherwood about Barney Dean, a writer for Hope & Crosby on the coast, whom he greatly admires for his wit.
“Somebody asked him how he liked his writing job,” Jack related, “and he said, ‘Fine, except every once in a while when they ask me to write something.’”
“How I know that feeling!” Sherwood said.
Me too. Right now.

Jack returned to the air on September 10 and the first-half of the show involved dialogue dealing with the trip. Interestingly, Jack and his writers admitted in the second half that radio was finished. Benny and his troupe are shunted around the CBS building because all the radio studios are now being used for television. Within two months, Benny’s TV show would debut from New York.

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